Ede, 12 October 2021 – People all over the world are turning to plant-based foods in growing numbers. They are also increasingly aware of the dangers of too much salt, sugar and highly processed foods in their diets, which is driving demand for so-called “clean label” food products. A new public-private funded project aims to develop new fermentation processes to improve the quality of plant-based proteins.

Recent years have seen growing consumer interest in plant-based food options, leading to a (partial) transition from animal- to plant-based proteins. For example, the UK’s Vegan Society predicts that, between 2020 and 2025, the market for plant-based milk alternatives will grow by around 17% per year while consumption of vegan cheese will increase by 13% per year . However, the increased use of plant proteins comes with several challenges as plant-protein ingredients often contain compounds that can cause unpleasant flavours in end products – such as hexanal from legume-based proteins producing a noticeable “beany” flavour.

It can be very difficult – if not impossible – to completely eliminate these unwanted compounds using conventional food processing approaches such as filtration and / or chemical processing. Moreover, the extensive use of chemical additives doesn’t really match up with the view of plant-based food as a natural, healthy and sustainable option.

Improving plant-based proteins

To overcome this and maximize the potential of plant-based food products, a new consortium of leading food manufacturers, universities and food research institutes has launched a project to develop bio-purification techniques based on fermentation. Fermentation has been used for millennia to create such familiar foodstuffs as yoghurt, bread, and beer. But it can be applied much more widely in food production using different microbial cultures. By carefully selecting the culture and controlling the fermentation process, it is possible to fine tune the effect of the fermentation on the ingredient of end product.

The three-year “Bio-purification of plant proteins” project will explore the potential for using fermentation to remove off flavours and other unwanted characteristics in various plant proteins and isolates. It aims to develop generic bio-purification strategies and determine the strengths and limitations of such techniques. To do this, the project will draw on knowledge of how fermentation can remove undesired components from already existing technologies within the consortium and the wider industry.

Public-private finding for sustainable food supplies

The project is co-funded by the consortium partners and a grant from the Dutch government through its Top Sector Agri & Food (TKI Agri & Food) initiative. TKI Agri & Food is one of nine Top Sector organisations established by the Dutch government to stimulate innovation and business opportunities in sectors where the Netherlands already excels.

Successful generic strategies found by the project will be applicable to different protein sources and impurities. This should allow the plant-based food industry to develop innovative bio-purification processes for manufacturing new or improved plant-based food products. The availability of such high-quality plant-based products – potentially with fewer additives – will give consumers greater choice of healthy food options.

The Bio-purification of plant proteins consortium

  • NIZO (project coordinator)
  • Wageningen University and Research (WUR)
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)
  • HAS University of Applied Sciences
  • Bel
  • GeneralMills
  • Glanbia Ireland DAC
  • IFF
  • Ruitenberg Ingredients

The “Bio-purification of plant proteins” project receives financial support from the Top Sector Agri & Food. Within the Top Sector, the business community, knowledge institutions and the government work together on innovations for safe, healthy food for 9 billion people in a resilient world.